What is a Great Disciple? (Part 5)

Noble Disciples (cont.)

The second is a psychological perspective in which the noble disciple is viewed as one who was eradicated one or more of the ten fetters (Pali: samyojana) of the mind.  In the classical Theravādan tradition these fetters are typically seen as being eradicated in groups.  With each group’s successful eradication, the noble disciple is considered to be at the next stage of spiritual development.

The first of these stages is stream-entry (Pali: sotāpatti).  It is marked by the eradication of the coarsest three fetters: personality view (Pali: sakkāyaditthi), doubt in the Buddha and his teaching, and wrong grasp of rules and vows (Pali: sīlabbataparānāsa).  The next stage is that of the once-returner (Pali: sakadāgāmi).   It is not marked by the eradication of any additional fetters than that of the stream-enterer, but is characterized by one who has attenuated the three root defilements (greed, hatred, and delusion) so that they only arise sporadically and in mild degree.  The third stage is that of a non-returner (Pali: anāgāmī).  It is marked by the eradication of the two deep fetters: sensual lust and ill will.  The final stage is that of the arahant (Pali: arahatta).  It is marked by the eradication of the five subtle fetters: desire for existence in the form realm and formless realm, conceit, restlessness, and ignorance.

It is from among the noble disciples (from stream-enterers to arahants) that the great disciples are picked.  But whereas one becomes a noble disciple in a lifetime, the path to great discipleship spans multiple lifetimes and reaches deep into one’s samsāric past.

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